Verdict in Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Defamation Case Is ‘Strange’ and ‘Unexpected,’ Legal Experts Say
On Wednesday, a jury awarded Johnny Depp $15 million in his defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard
Legal experts are weighing in on the verdict reached in Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard.
On Wednesday, the 58-year-old actor won all three defamation claims in the case and was awarded $15 million in damages by a jury. Heard will only have to pay $10.35 million due to Virginia law capping punitive damages (the judge reduced the amount).
Depp sued Heard, 36, for $50 million in damages, claiming she defamed him by writing a 2018 op-ed about coming forward with domestic abuse accusations, though she did not mention him by name. Meanwhile, Heard filed a countersuit seeking $100 million in damages, claiming Depp spearheaded a campaign to discredit her and her allegations as “fake” and a “hoax,” harming her career and reputation.
In regards to Heard’s countersuit brought against Depp, he was found to have defamed her on one of three claims. She was awarded $2 million in damages.
“It is a strange result,” lawyer and legal analyst Emily D. Baker tells PEOPLE. “Johnny Depp won all three of his defamation claims, and Amber Heard won one of her counterclaims.”
Family law attorney and former psychologist David Glass also feels it was “a very unexpected result,” adding that it’s “relatively rare” for both parties to simultaneously have wins and losses in a case like this.
“It means that the jury found that each of them were telling the truth enough to get their verdict,” he tells PEOPLE. “But it’s clearly in favor of Johnny Depp because the jury just did not believe anything that Amber Heard had said — other than her expert saying that her career was slightly damaged.”
Both lawyers point to the damages awarded to both Depp and Heard in the case.
“What I think spoke very loudly is that the jury awarded $10 million in compensatory damages to Johnny Depp [and] $5 million in punitive, [even though] that was reduced by the court already because Virginia does not allow more than $350,000 in punitive damages,” former L.A. deputy district attorney Baker explains.
She adds, “The punitive damages are the punishment damages, saying we don’t like what you did. And that 5 million number is, I think, a message.”
Baker points out that, when it came to Heard’s countersuit brought against Depp, the jury awarded the Aquaman actress $2 million in damages, “but zero in punitive.” She says, “That I think was the loudest message the jury sent.”
Glass says that the punitive damages awarded to Depp signify that the jury felt that Heard “did this on purpose to try and hurt him.” Baker adds that the punitive damages say the jury “did not believe” Heard.
Meanwhile, Baker believes that Depp was facing an “uphill battle” in the trial. However, she says, “I think Johnny Depp’s legal team had the advantage of knowing how Amber Heard would present to a jury after seeing her testify in the U.K. And I think that they relied on that — they relied on whether a jury’s going to believe her or not, they relied on her past statements.”
Glass believes Depp’s team did “a good job with his testimony in preparing him because he came off as a hurt child,” he says. “And they talked about his own childhood upbringing to bring around some sympathy for him. And that was a brilliant move because they allowed him to act that way.”
As for Heard’s team, he says, “I think they did the best they could. She wanted to tell her story. She told it in a very dramatic fashion. Perhaps she went too far in bringing up new stories that had never been brought up before, and perhaps that’s what turned the jury.”
Ultimately, he says, “This case boiled down to one [volatile] relationship that lasted about a year and had allegations on both sides. So it’s a very unusual, very unique case.”
Glass says he doesn’t believe the case itself will have “a lot of influence elsewhere other than maybe in law schools teaching about defamation. Because, honestly when you go to law school, you’re taught that these defamation cases almost never win, and it’s very hard to prove the damages — to link very short, small statements to any sort of real monetary damage to your reputation or your employment.
“And so this sort of stands out as an outlier that I think will be talked about, but only in terms of it really doesn’t fit the elements of defamation.”